Psst... hello there

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Kanuck
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Psst... hello there

Post by Kanuck » Mon Jul 09, 2007 8:54 pm

Hey, everyone! Long time, no see. How are things?

I just wanted to let people know I'm back in the industry, so to speak—only this time for good! I've joined the team at FreshBooks here in Toronto. We operate a successful online invoicing service with time tracking and support ticketing tools. It's really neat stuff, and I'm very happy to be a part of it.

I'm now entering my fourth week here at the company. For now my role involves jockeying the phones, running the support operation, getting intimately familiar with our product and lending a hand with various other things from time to time. I'm absolutely loving being involved with a small PHP-based development project again... it's definitely leading me to reminisce about all the good times I had here at phpBB.com, back in the early 2.0 days.

Not-so-coincidentally, one of my first major responsibilities here at FreshBooks is a community-building project. We've recently released the first version of our XML API; this platform allows external access to some of the core functionality of our software. Eventually the API will expose every bit of the functionality that our interface does, at which point we'll be re-building our own interface right on top of our platform. "Eating our own dog food," so to speak. It's really exciting stuff, and opens up a lot of brand new opportunities for us and our users. As phpBB has exemplified for many years now, the separation of front-end from back-end adds a massive amount of flexibility to any piece of software. And we think adding external access to the back-end will really help people use our services however they like.

In the coming months, I'll be doing my best to build a vibrant development community around our API, alongside an improved support community for our users. We're looking to take advantage of our large, active user base to reduce our support load and improve response times, especially outside of our regular business hours. This should greatly improve the user experience, and allow us to spend more time developing new features and actively participating in our development community. It will also allow us to create more in-house tools to share with our users, and offer better assistance to folks building applications of their own.

Now, yes, we do charge monthly fees to clients who upgrade from our starter package, and we are a for-profit corporation with closed-source software and paid employees. So I fully understand this will immediately turn many of you off—trust me, I fully understand the allegiance to open-source software, having been a loyal member of the phpBB community for many years myself.

But note that our base package includes our full services completely free and completely unhindered, with no time limit. And our support is completely free, for everybody, all the time. So there's absolutely no barrier to entry, especially from the development side. Anybody can do anything they like.

So I'm hoping some of you might be willing to discuss your experiences where you've been part of successfully building a community, from the ground up, around the development and support of a niche web-based product. I'm sure my experiences here at phpBB.com should prove immensely valuable; there were plenty of lessons learned and mistakes made. But I'd love to hear about other communities as well. How did you first draw people to the site? How did you get them to stay? How did you encourage participation? In my opinion, these are the keys to a wildly successful community like phpBB.com, and as we've all seen, a strong community like that can keep a project going through thick and thin.

I'm especially interested in hearing from anybody who added a community aspect to an already successful web-based service. Did you make people sign up separately for your community, did you tie in the authentication, or did you make registration seamless from within the software? How did you encourage people to take part? I'd love to hear anything you've got.

Or, you know, if you just want to make fun of the size of my nostrils in my photo, it could be just like old times. Really, the field's wide open here.

It's good to be back! Olympus feels just incredible, and I'm looking forward to seeing what she can do. Congratulations to the whole group on a fantastic job done.
Kanuck
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Phil
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Re: Psst... hello there

Post by Phil » Mon Jul 09, 2007 9:05 pm

Welcome back! As per your question, I've been working on integrating a community with my already semi-successful site for the last few weeks. I'm rebuilding it from the bottom up with phpBB3 integration, something I've tried before but abandoned after the site went down due to a few unforeseen problems on my end. I've tried integrating a community into the site more than once, some of which have required more than one login, and others have used a single, unified login. I've found user participation tends to be much greater on a site with a unified login (much less separated, if nothing else).

As for actually running the community, I've noticed that the first few weeks tend to be the hardest. I and some others I know tend to get a bit discouraged when their board is quiet and empty -- once things start speeding up, though, they seem to sustain themselves (assuming your community isn't existing just for the sake of existing, which, as you described, it wouldn't be).

That's my 2¢, anyway :D
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Techie-Micheal
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Re: Psst... hello there

Post by Techie-Micheal » Tue Jul 10, 2007 12:10 am

yay! Haiz Kanuck, been much too long. A lot has changed since you were last here. Some for the better (haiz Olympus!), some not (bye bye James and Jon :().

I've run sites integrated (current one) and sites not, and the sites that are integrated as far as SSO goes tend to do much better community-wise. Less painful for the users, but for a developer/site admin, a bit more difficult, depending on how you integrate. My current site uses a custom sessions system, DBAL, and templating engine. It was a pain in the butt. Really. Modifying templates to work with the template engine (we pretty much wrote our own template as much as we changed things. Blah), ripping out phpBB's DBAL to drop in our own, and same goes for the sessions. Sometimes you just need to do that, as I'm sure in your case in order to attach to what's already built as far as user database goes, but if you are building from scratch, I'd suggest not going that far. Once we go for v2 of the app that runs the site, we'll dump all of that and go with phpBB3's sessions and the like.

Two sites I'm working on (and hopefully a third soon) are using Zend Framework (rather nice, actually) and will hook in to phpBB3 for sessions and templating and such. The reason I bring this up because this is less about building for phpBB, and more phpBB around the app, if that makes sense. In other words, I don't view it as relying on phpBB to provide everything like the phpBB portals and such that are offered, but more of getting an existing application and phpBB to coexist peacefully. I haven't looked at the site yet, so I don't know what language it is built on, but I'd have to say SSO is probably the most important as far as users care. It is easy, they can quickly go from one part of the site to another without having to worry about having a second set of credentials.

Hopefully my useless ramblings weren't so ... useless? :P
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A_Jelly_Doughnut
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Re: Psst... hello there

Post by A_Jelly_Doughnut » Tue Jul 10, 2007 5:18 pm

Kanuck wrote: Or, you know, if you just want to make fun of the size of my nostrils in my photo, it could be just like old times. Really, the field's wide open here.
You know, its funny the way phpBB.com has matured since you and Pit were arguing over the word F-A-Q. Back then, you were 17 and (The Black) Pit was 13.

Many of the same people are still around, like SamG, Heimidal, and Techie. Many 13 and 14 year-olds still sign up to the site, but I guess they get lost and never make us all know them like you and Pit did.

Starting a community takes lots of energy. Sustaining it takes people who spend way too much time online doing the same things over and over.

Few board admins have both.

No more tiny apartment in Ontario for Kanuck, eh? :mrgreen:
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Kanuck
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Re: Psst... hello there

Post by Kanuck » Tue Jul 10, 2007 9:50 pm

I'll reply in detail later, on my way out to play hockey right now... but no, no more tiny apartment, now it's a gorgeous waterfront apartment by the CN Tower and SkyDome. :)

Thanks for the replies, I'll get back to you shortly! If anyone else has some input, let's hear it.
Kanuck
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bibbi758
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Re: Psst... hello there

Post by bibbi758 » Wed Jul 11, 2007 2:25 am

Hello Kanuck!
I'm fairly new here and don't post too often. I used to live in Toronto. I now live in Owen Sound. I do IT work.
This is an excellent site. I was recommending to a client of mine phpBB. It is excellent. Nice to meet you! :D
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